Early mainstream adoption of enterprise immersive software will most probably not take place in 2013 because of issues regarding the ease of use and the scalability of those immersive environments.
ThinkBalm is a boutique analyst firm focused on work-related use of the Immersive Internet. I ventured out to interview Erica more specifically about OpenSim but Erica was kind enough to share with me her ideas and experiences regarding the wider industry of immersive software (some would say virtual environments or even virtual worlds in some cases).
In January 2010 ThinkBalm published The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide. In the guide it was noted that the enterprise immersive software market is small, volatile and fragmented and deals with fast-changing technology.
However, the report also made this prediction:
While the enterprise immersive software market today is small and emerging, and we are facing “the chasm,” signs point to early mainstream adoption in a three-year timeframe — we are targeting 2013.
In the meantime however Oracle said it would no longer apply development resources to Project Wonderland, Forterra sold OLIVE to SAIC, on the consumer side the virtual world Metaplace closed down already in December 2009, and in March 2010 There.com and Vivaty closed their virtual doors as well.
This negative news flow affects the potential customers, and the business of work-related immersive environments is slowing down. Erica Driver now says that the 2013 prediction “was a little bit aggressive.” She did not give a new estimate, being in the process of analyzing the situation.
The main issues for business users are scalability and ease of use, so Erica explains. Environments such as OpenSim and Second Life are often not scalable enough and not easy enough to use. There are requirements regarding hardware and firewalls which make it hard to gain traction, especially in a business environment where people have yet to discover the value of immersive collaboration.
I asked whether OpenSim was not an interesting option for companies to try out immersive collaboration. OpenSim is cheap and can be used easily as a stand-alone solution (and behind a firewall). Erica made it clear that OpenSim and open source in general is not a “free” solution, because companies need people who have expertise in Second Life scripting and building for instance. OpenSim as yet has not the large market place which is available for Second Life and where tools and builds can be bought.
There are other solutions, which are easier to use (don’t require downloads, are web based) but which don’t provide the immersive experience of let’s say Second Life. Examples are InXpo, On24, and Unisfair.
Most of those services are not exactly very well known, but nonetheless they do gain considerable traction. One of the reasons is the crisis, which makes companies look for cost cutting – so instead of organizing expensive trips companies will look for alternative ways to collaborate. Erica admits that this trend should also be good news for fully immersive environments, but this seems not to be the case.
The reason? Ease of use and integration with the web and existing enterprise tools are crucial. The fact that a solution is not fully immersive is not that important because many business users don’t have the experience of collaborating in full 3D environments.
All this can change of course and maybe the above mentioned web based services will evolve to more immersive experiences. Combining scalability and ease of use remains a big challenge, and adding full immersion to all that is something which we won’t experience in the next few years.